Recent Advances in Histopathological and Molecular Diagnosis in Pheochromocytoma and Paraganglioma: Challenges for Predicting Metastasis in Individual Patients

Front Endocrinol (Lausanne). 2020 Oct 27:11:587769. doi: 10.3389/fendo.2020.587769. eCollection 2020.


Pheochromocytomas and paragangliomas (PHEO/PGL) are rare but occasionally life-threatening neoplasms, and are potentially malignant according to WHO classification in 2017. However, it is also well known that histopathological risk stratification to predict clinical outcome has not yet been established. The first histopathological diagnostic algorithm for PHEO, "PASS", was proposed in 2002 by Thompson et al. Another algorithm, GAPP, was then proposed by Kimura et al. in 2014. However, neither algorithm has necessarily been regarded a 'gold standard' for predicting post-operative clinical behavior of tumors. This is because the histopathological features of PHEO/PGL are rather diverse and independent of their hormonal activities, as well as the clinical course of patients. On the other hand, recent developments in wide-scale genetic analysis using next-generation sequencing have revealed the molecular characteristics of pheochromocytomas and paragangliomas. More than 30%-40% of PHEO/PGL are reported to be associated with hereditary genetic abnormalities involving > 20 genes, including SDHXs, RET, VHL, NF1, TMEM127, MAX, and others. Such genetic alterations are mainly involved in the pathogenesis of pseudohypoxia, Wnt, and kinase signaling, and other intracellular signaling cascades. In addition, recurrent somatic mutations are frequently detected and overlapped with the presence of genetic alterations associated with hereditary diseases. In addition, therapeutic strategies specifically targeting such genetic abnormalities have been proposed, but they are not clinically applicable at this time. Therefore, we herein review recent advances in relevant studies, including histopathological and molecular analyses, to summarize the current status of potential prognostic factors in patients with PHEO/PGL.

Keywords: GAPP; PASS; SDHB; adrenal; genotype; paraganglioma; pathology; pheochromocytoma.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adrenal Gland Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Adrenal Gland Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Adrenal Gland Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Adrenal Gland Neoplasms / pathology
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / metabolism
  • Citric Acid Cycle / genetics
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Genetic Testing / methods
  • Germ-Line Mutation*
  • High-Throughput Nucleotide Sequencing / methods
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Membrane Proteins / genetics
  • Neoplasm Metastasis / genetics
  • Pheochromocytoma / diagnosis*
  • Pheochromocytoma / genetics*
  • Pheochromocytoma / metabolism
  • Pheochromocytoma / pathology
  • Prognosis
  • Protein Kinases / genetics
  • Wnt Signaling Pathway / genetics


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Protein Kinases